It should be a surprise to nobody that Jakob Pelletier is off to a fantastic start to his professional hockey career. Despite what some “analysts” have said about his potential, Pelletier leads the Stockton Heat in points this season and has worked his way onto the team’s top line. On top of that, he currently sits fourth in the AHL is points. He is just twenty years old.
The AHL is considered to be among the best leagues in the world, and nearly every player in the NHL today has spent some time in this league prior to making the jump to pro hockey. Given how tough it is, it often takes prospects a few years to adjust from junior or college hockey before they start becoming impact players. Many note that the speed of the game is so much faster at the AHL level than any previous level they had played. This is why it is so rare to see a rookie tear up the league. Let’s take a look at how he stacks up across the league and over time.
Where is Pelletier in the AHL scoring race?
Pelletier currently sits fourth in AHL scoring with seven goals and 15 assists in 18 games. This puts him fourth in the league in points with 22, as well as fourth in points-per-game with 1.22. Two skaters are ahead of him in points, Jack Quinn and Andrew Poturalski, while Martin Frk holds third with the same number of points but three more goals than Pelletier. Both Poturalski and Frk are much older than Pelletier, 27 and 28 respectively, and both have played around 300 AHL games as well as NHL games in their careers.
Like Pelletier, Quinn is also 20 years old, but is in his second season with the Rochester Americans. That being said, he has had an incredible season and is having among the best 20-year-old seasons in the AHL in recent memory.
How has Pelletier done over time?
Looking back over the last ten seasons, Pelletier finds himself in very esteemed company with his start. Since the 2011–12 season, only three skaters have had better a better point-per-game record than him: the aforementioned Quinn so far this season, Ryan Strome in 2013–14, and Trevor Zegras last season. Only 24 skaters have recorded a point-per-game in the AHL before or during their 20-year-old season, and is a list which includes David Pastrnak, Willaim Nylander, and Mikko Rantanen, although all three did it as 19-year-olds.
Looking exclusively at those who are 20 years old, Pelletier finds himself ahead of some great current NHLers including Drake Batherson, J.T. Miller, and Kyle Palmieri (who at one point was a trade target of the Flames). Speaking of the Flames, only one Flame in the last ten years has hit the point-per-game mark in the AHL in his 20-year-old season and that was Dillon Dube, although that was in his second season in the league.
Even expanding the data to include those in their 21-year-old season, Pelletier sits seventh, with only the Frank Vatano, Taylor Hall, and the aforementioned Batherson having better years than Pelletier is having so far this season. It is also worth noting that Hall’s season came during the lockout season of 2012–13, when he likely would have been playing in the NHL had the season started on time.
What does this mean for Pelletier going forward?
Pelletier has never been the flashiest guy on the ice. Through his career in the QMJHL with both Val d’or and Moncton, he has always been lauded for his two-way play first and his offensive ability—specifically his playmaking—second.
This season, he has been put in a position to score, playing on the Heat’s top line and top power play unit, and he has made the most of the opportunity. While he has not been the target man, having played alongside one time AHL leading goalscorer Adam Ruzicka who is now up with the Flames. That said, Pelletier currently leads the AHL in game-winning goals with four, showing that when the chips are down, he is a guy the team can call on to push them over the edge.
Is it time for a call-up to Calgary for Pelletier? It probably is. Not only has he shown his ability at the AHL level, he has exceeded any and all expectations that the team could have had from him going into this year. Not only has he been arguably the Heat’s best skater this season (with Dustin Wolf being in the mix as the team’s best outright player), Pelletier has been among the best in the AHL in the last ten years for players his age. He deserves an NHL look.
From there the sky’s the limit. Pelletier is showing that he has the tools to be an impact NHLer. While he likely does not develop into an elite goalscorer—as that is just not the type of player that he is—there is a good chance that he becomes an exceptional two-way player or a top-six playmaking forward. He is not the flashiest guy on the ice, but his ability to create chances out of nothing is magical to watch.
When he was drafted two seasons back, there was a lot of excitement around what he could be, but less fanfare than when Connor Zary or Matthew Coronato were selected. However, there is no doubt that the Flames have a very special player in their prospect pool in Jakob Pelletier, and one that looks ready not only to make the jump to the NHL level, but to stay there for a long, long time.